Venetian Art Exhibit Portrays Evolution of Renaissance Painting

22 January, 2012 at 07:33 | Posted in Culture, picture of the day | Leave a comment
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By Betsy Kim

NEW YORK—The eye-opening aspect of one of the current exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art does not lie in the beauty and perfection of the paintings. Instead, carefully selected and arranged pieces allow visitors to witness the striking evolution of Renaissance painting.

Bartolomeo Vivarini’s “Death of the Virgin” (1485) boldly experiments with perspectives. Painted as an altarpiece for a chapel in the Certosa at Padua, Italy, it presents a traditionally pious scene.

On a throne, Christ holds a miniature Virgin Mary, which represents her soul to be carried to heaven by eight angels. Eleven apostles surround Mary’s body lying in state. They gaze up at the spiritual figures.

Foreshortening is a technique to create an illusion of depth in two dimensions. Objects closer to the viewer appear larger, and images recede into the distance. In Bartolomeo’s painting, with exaggerated foreshortening, the apostles’ faces appear squished in cartoon-like distortions. Starkly outlined figures, painted in bright tempera, add to the vivid but slightly crude result.

Depth and perspectives are hallmark innovations of Renaissance art. Paintings, such as Bartolomeo’s remind us that these kinds of advances did not occur overnight. Bartolomeo was influenced by artists like Andrea Mantegna, a painter well-known for experimenting with creative perspectives.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit, Art in Renaissance Venice, 1400–1515, benchmarks these types of developments, leading to the High Renaissance. The 44 drawings and paintings embody the influences in Venice of artists from Florence, Padua, and other Italian cities, according to Alison Nogueira, the assistant curator in the Robert Lehman Collection who organized the exhibit.

Artists traveled to Venice to work on commissions, including at the Doge’s Palace, the symbolic seat of Venetian power. The confluence of artists fertilized change.

Influential Artist Families

Although they were both powerful families in the art world, the Bellinis historically overshadowed the Vivarinis (Bartolomeo’s origin).

Jacopo Bellini is often called the father of painting — Alison Nogueira

“Jacopo Bellini is often called the father of painting,” Nogueira said. “He was the father of Giovanni and Gentile, who were both extremely successful. But also philosophically, he was the founder of a new school of painting that introduced the Renaissance style.”

The Bellini family ran the most successful painting workshop in Venice, Nogueira said. Art historian Giorgio Vasari, in “The Lives of the Artists,” noted that Jacopo convinced his daughter, Nicolosia, to marry Mantegna. Giovanni and his brother-in-law, Mantegna, learned from one another and widely influenced artists throughout the region.

Jacopo initiated the half-length Madonna sitting behind a ledge. Unlike a life-size model, the waist-up Madonna provided a close-up, intimate relationship with the viewer. This perspective suited well the Bellinis’ commissioned paintings for private devotional uses. The painting’s information card notes that the window-like frame of the parapet referenced the Virgin as the “window of heaven” through which God shed light on the world.

The exhibit’s sequence of Jacopo’s “Madonna and Child” followed by Giovanni’s three paintings of the same subject directly illustrates developments in Renaissance art. Jacopo’s painting (circa 1440s) evokes Byzantine icons. Flat, gold halos circle faces with aquiline noses. Christ sits in a full-frontal position.

Giovanni’s “Madonna Adoring the Sleeping Child” (1460s) bears strong resemblance to his father’s work, from the painted arched top to the face of the Madonna. Giovanni’s “Madonna and Child” (circa 1470) uses a similar composition, but in blended tempera and oil. This hybrid medium shows a midway transition, pushing through a stiff opaqueness toward a more refined depiction of beauty and virtue.

In the fourth piece, Giovanni painted “Madonna and Child” (late 1480s) fully in oil. The oil paint allowed gradients of rich colors, luminosity, and softly modeled features.

The work of Jacopo’s mentor, Gentile de Fabriano, hangs in the gallery dedicated to an earlier period of Gothic, Venetian art. But Nogueira noted that Fabriano’s painting “Madonna and Child with Angels,” even dating back to 1410, “marks an increased sense of naturalism.”

She pointed to its drapery of cloth and muscles on the Christ child as examples of stylistic influences in the Bellinis’ later works. And after all, according to Vasari, Bellini named his son, Gentile, after Fabriano.

The intertwining of the artists’ lives affected styles, techniques, and ideas across time and geographic distances. This exhibit demonstrates how painting as an art form dynamically evolved to reflect a civilization.

The exhibit Art in Renaissance Venice is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through Feb. 5.

Betsy Kim has worked as a lawyer and a TV reporter. She is now a writer living in New York City.

via Venetian Art Exhibit Portrays Evolution of Renaissance Painting | Literary & Visual Arts | Arts & Entertainment | Epoch Times

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